The term “neurodiversity” means that differences in our brains are just that—differences, not deficits—and that variation in the way each person thinks is to be expected. It was first coined in 1997 by Judy Singer, a sociologist, author, international speaker, and autism advocate who describes herself as being “in the middle of three generations of women somewhere on the autistic spectrum.” In recent years, terms like “neurodiversity,” “neurodivergent,”and “neuroatypical” have become more widely known and used. The latter two refer to people whose brains think, learn, or process information differently than what is considered “typical” or common.
Originally, neurodiversity was focused solely on people with neurological or developmental conditions like autism, ADHD, or learning disabilities. The movement celebrates the natural variation in how people’s brains work—and the many wonderful things that people who are neuroatypical add to our world. A society in which everyone thought the same way would not only be dull; it would not function very well. People who think differently have different strengths. For example, those with ADHD may struggle with time management or impulsivity, but can be passionate, driven, and creative. Those with autism may struggle with communication skills or social cues, but can be passionate and creative, knowledgeable, analytical and detail oriented.
While there is no standard definition for what is and isn’t included under the “neurodiverse” umbrella, the term has evolved to include more conditions. It is now commonly used for chronic mental health disorders like OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. All of these can impact the way people think, process information, and see the world; the life of a person who is experiencing them can look very different from that of someone who isn’t. This, too, is what neurodiversity highlights—that, for many reasons, we are not all experiencing the world the same way and that we all face unique challenges.
People who are neurodivergent may also have experienced trauma from being bullied or pathologized, dealing with institutions designed for neurotypical people, or other experiences. A post in a public neurodiversity support group puts it, “CPTSD [Complex PTSD] happens when we feel unsafe over a sustained period. We feel unsafe when our needs are unmet, our concerns are ignored, and our identities go unexpressed…That’s exactly what happens to kids growing up with needs that differ from what’s covered in child-rearing books written for neurotypicals. That’s what happens when nobody believes that loud noises actually hurt, or that excessive correction can destroy a person’s sense of self.”
Neurological or developmental conditions also commonly co-occur with mental health disorders. People with ADHD are more likely to have anxiety, depression, and addiction. People with autism are more likely to have OCD, anxiety, or mood disorders. Those with more than one condition that affects the brain will be impacted in multiple ways that often interact with one another. A world made for neurotypical people can also be really challenging, and may exacerbate or contribute to mental health struggles.
Any condition considered neurodivergent can bring challenges. Celebrating the diversity of our brains doesn’t preclude seeking help for symptoms or disorders if they cause distress. I personally believe that seeking therapy or other resources is part of celebrating our brains. It means confronting the ways we struggle so we can learn tools to help us cope with challenges, play to our strengths, and be more present to relish in the unique way we see the world.
At TruHealing Centers, mental health care is the foundation for all our treatment plans. We offer high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff, many of whom are in recovery themselves, get to know you as an individual and provide support based on your unique strengths and challenges. If you are interested in learning more about how we can provide support for mental health disorders, reach out to us by filling out our online form or calling us at 833.631.0525.